By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — While the majority of the NBA media have been focused on a bigoted owner in Los Angeles, Oklahoma City has quietly gone under the radar the past two days.
That could all change at 8 p.m. today when the Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies face off in Game 5 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. With the series now a best of three, every time they come onto the court, they could be one step closer to the end of their season.
“Going into the series, we knew every game was going to be a close game with how (the Grizzlies) play,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “We knew going into the series it was going to be a very difficult series. Now it’s tied up 2-2, and that means we have to play with the same type of intensity... in front of our home crowd, which are the best fans in the league.”
The Thunder are in this position due to the efforts of reserve guard Reggie Jackson. His 32 points in Game 4 allowed the team to withstand a horrible shooting night from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
But Jackson knows he can’t live off the exploits of one game. For Oklahoma City to win this series and advance, he has to continue showing up.
“We got back to the locker room, showered off and had to put it behind us,” Jackson said of Game 4. “We’re in a best of three game series now, playing a tough team. We know we’re having a tough battle. They believe that they should win. We believe that we should win. Both teams want to advance and it’s a do or die moment.”
However, the rest of the Thunder weren’t ready to put Jackson’s breakout playoff game on the backburner. Durant, who is mired in the worst shooting slump of his career, talked about the embrace he gave the third-year guard on the floor after Game 4.
“We have a great relationship,” Durant said. “It’s up and down, we get on each other, we almost go to blows sometimes but I’m there for him when he needs me and he’s there for me when I need him, and that hug symbolizes our relationship. It was good to celebrate that moment with him.”
Jackson was just as effusive about Durant.
“The embrace just meant so much,” Jackson agreed. “We all may have our moments where we’re barking at each other back and forth, trying to get things done. But we’ve all put in the work and watched each other put in the work and that moment was just about getting’ it done. It didn’t matter who got it done we were just happy we were able to win.”
Yet, Through four games, Oklahoma City can lay claim to playing near its best for only two quarters. And that was the first half of Game 1.
Since then, the Thunder have watched its high powered, attack offense transformed into bunch of jump shots and one-on-one ball. Part of that could be the familiarity of a pair of teams who’ve matched up with each other three out of the last four postseasons.
“You see two teams and nothing’s new under the sun now,” Caron Butler said. “Everybody knows each others’ tendencies, the scheme, everything. It’s all about effort, imposing your will on the game, having the same disposition night in and night out.”
The Thunder hope tonight is the night their two stars find their shots again. But if not, and it turns into another down-to-the-wire overtime slug fest, the team knows it can count on Jackson not to shy away from the moment if called upon.
“There’s been some tough times,” Jackson said. “All the work, all the long nights in gyms, all the days trying to reach the moment and live the dream that seemed to always escape his grasp. Just having my teammates trust me that I could make the shots, it was a very emotional moment for me.”
The Thunder and Grizzlies have played in three straight overtime games. It’s the second time it has ever happened. The first came in 2009 between the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls.
“It’s nerve wrecking to be honest, Durant said. “It’s great basketball. Both teams are coming out there putting it all out on the line to win basketball games. We have a long way to go. We have more work to do. But it’s fun playing in those type of games.”
But the two teams have also played in a total of eight extra periods since the 2010 season. Memphis is 6-2 in those games. Entering tonight Memphis and Oklahoma City have played 7,478 minutes of head-to-head basketball since 2010. That is the most in the NBA in that time frame. The Celtics and Bulls are second with 6,605.
Former Clipper stands by brothers
One of Butler’s many stops around the NBA before coming to Oklahoma City was with the Clippers. He spent two years on the squad that is now in the eye of the storm due to the racially charged remarks by owner Donald Sterling that were caught on tape.
“When I got news, I thought it was just a bad situation, an unfortunate situation,” Butler said. “And I agree with my peers all around the league. There’s no room in our game for that or our society.”
Butler also said he had no idea Sterling felt that way about black people.
“Didn’t know him,” Butler said. “I just knew he was the owner and knew him like that. That’s it.”
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